Checklist: Flight Planning For Security

Credit: Adobe Stock/Bluehousestudio

Flight crews must prepare and have a heightened awareness of security issues when they travel, especially when flying internationally. Experiences among flights can vary widely. How should flight departments prepare? NBAA Go flight operations conference, hosted by the National Business Aviation Association, presented a seminar on Feb. 25 called Business Aviation Security Best Practices focused on the issue. Panelists included Kristopher Cannon, founder and CEO of Aviation Secure USA; Matt Burdette, chief of intelligence with United Health Care Global Security; and Eric Moilanen, founder of Premier Corporate Security.

Flight crew and personal security is key when planning a trip, especially when flying internationally. The main issue is preparation before leaving for the airport, upon arrival and departure, during layovers and in the event of a crisis, says Burdette.

Here are tips from the presenters on planning for a secure trip.

Predeparture Security Planning

  • Find out what to expect in the country you’re flying into.
  • Collect information and conduct a security briefing, especially when flying into a country with higher risks. Look at the condition of the country, the city, airports, hotels and areas where you will be staying. That way, you’re more apt to recognize when something is off. Look at the crime rate and whether there are criminal ruses or scams to watch for.
  • Turn to a variety of sources for information, such as the country’s State department,, NBAA and other pilots who have made the trip.
  • Contact the fixed base operator before departure to obtain information about lighting, fencing and security.
  • Determine risk and whether you will need a guard.
  • Know COVID-19 testing requirements to enter or leave the country.
  • Put together crisis contacts and a plan of action to respond. Who is the first person to call? Second person? Know the number to the embassy.
  • Be sure crew members have one another’s current numbers.
  • In case of a medical emergency, know ahead of time whether or which hospital will accept your insurance.
  • Have a predetermined place for the crew to meet in the event of an emergency, such as the pub around the block, a parking lot or other area.

At the Destination Airport

  • The goal is to reduce vulnerability on the ground. “Now you’re flying a $30- to $50- to $70-million aircraft into this location.” Don’t assume the destination airport will have security.
  • Consider where the aircraft is parked, the length of time it will be there and whether any issues could impact a delay to leaving quickly should the need arise.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask that the aircraft be moved if it is parked too far away from the FBO or if lighting is poor, for example.
  • Use security seals for the aircraft so you will notice whether someone has tampered with it.
  • Bring along an extra steering pin. That way, should it go missing, you won’t be stuck.
  • Before departure, conduct an “extremely healthy preflight.”

Ground Movements

  • Airports aren’t always in the best neighborhoods. Consider the safest way to travel from the airport to the hotel and back.
  • Avoid traveling late at night.
  • Practice smart ridesharing practices. “Ridesharing, no matter where you’re at is hitchhiking with your phone,” says Cannon. Assaults have happened and awareness is key.
  • When ordering a ride, rideshare companies will send information, such as the driver’s name and photo and license number of the vehicle. When the driver arrives, make sure all information matches before getting in.
  • Ask the driver who he or she is there to pick up before giving out your name to ensure you have the correct ride.
  • Before entering the vehicle, roll down the back window, reach inside to make sure the child lock is off, and the door will open from the inside.
  • Take a photo of the driver and let the driver know you are sending it to your family or friends.
  • Sit directly behind the driver to better react or respond should the driver try to do something “creepy.”

At the Hotel

  • At the hotel, operate together as a crew. Check in together. Do not leave female crew members at the desk alone.
  • Guard personal information at the hotel, restaurants, bars and gas stations.
  • When asked for your ID to check into the hotel, hold it up for them to see rather than handing it over. If they take it, watch to see what is being done with it.
  • Keep bags next to your feet at the check-in counter.
  • *Male crew members should accompany female crew members to their rooms and help them make sure the room is empty before entering. After check-in, it is a good idea for men to swap rooms with female crew members, so the hotel is unaware. 
  • Before opening the door to the hotel room, push on the door first and attempt to turn the handle. If it pushes open, ask for another room.
  • If a female enters an elevator at the same time as a male, she should wait for the male to hit the button to his floor first. If the man waits for the female to hit her button first, she should get out of the elevator.
  • Know the emergency exits from your room. Carry a flashlight.
  • Outline a contingency plan for an active shooter, hotel bombing, medical emergency or emergency departure.

Crew Layover

  • Know the whereabouts of everyone on the crew. Stay together. If going alone, notify the crew that you are leaving, where you are going and when you will return. Upon return, let others know you are back.
  • Avoid attracting attention. No university, aircraft shirts or graphic T-shirts. Be careful when consuming alcohol, which lowers situational awareness.
  • Carry a dummy wallet with a few dollars inside and keep documents and cash in a boot wallet or waste wallet. Carry a purse across your front with reinforced straps to protect from a purse snatching. *Don’t carry anything of value.
  • Keep situational awareness in the forefront at all times.
  • If caught up in an incident and your life is not in imminent danger, give up your wallet or your possessions. They are not worth your life.
  • In a case of a crisis, know which social media options to check into to reassure others that you are safe should phone service be out.

Upon Return Home

  • Go over lessons learned while memories are fresh.
  • What worked and why? What didn’t and why?
  • What changes should be adopted into the procedures?  Who else in the organization might benefit from your experience?
Molly McMillin

Molly McMillin, a 25-year aviation journalist, is managing editor of business aviation for the Aviation Week Network and editor-in-chief of The Weekly of Business Aviation, an Aviation Week market intelligence report.